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Brody, M.W. (1956). Clinical Manifestations of Ambivalence. Psychoanal Q., 25:505-514.

(1956). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 25:505-514

Clinical Manifestations of Ambivalence

Morris W. Brody, M.D.


Ambivalence describes a disturbance of libidinal development, but the term tends to lose significance when applied to the protean clinical manifestations of all psychopathological bipolarities. Ambivalence is described as a dynamic concept, although in the literature it is often referred to in a structural sense and as such it is employed with varying meanings. Ambivalence is a psychic striving and is essentially narcissistically hedonistic in nature. It is most intense in the infant who has been subjected to gross oral and anal deprivations and is therefore retarded in differentiating between itself and the outside world. Such an infant imperfectly distinguishes the parent, as a person, from the traumatic behavior of the parent toward it. Ambivalence manifests itself clinically as a partial object relationship. There is an isolation of the libidinal affective reaction toward the object in favor of an affective reaction toward an attribute of the object. Since the ambivalent person is so painfully aware of his dependence on the outside world, he does not fully feel nor express his hostility to frustration. Whenever he is challenged, he feels helpless to do anything in his own behalf. Unable to find a reasonable, adaptive compromise, he defends his helpless state with further helplessness in the service of achieving a magical autarchy; thus he externalizes the problem and temporarily relieves himself of feeling helpless. He sees himself as a victim of overwhelming outside forces and justifies his reaction of passivity as appropriate to the situation. Helplessness, often masked by pseudo aggression, is then employed in the service of magical omnipotence allowing the ambivalent person to consider these overwhelming outside forces as potentially under his control. The ambivalent person, feeling wholly helpless, behaves as though his affective reactions do not originate within himself but rather are reactions to outside stimulations. He lacks, therefore, a frame of reference for realistic

appraisal of his sensory perceptions. It is as though he neither loves nor hates. Whenever he believes himself to be hated, he withdraws love as though this were a magical maneuver which will compel the object to bestow love.

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